ASPCA Commends U.S. House Leaders for Introducing Bill to Protect Animal Fighting Victims

The HEART Act will enable cruelty victims to find safe and loving homes more quickly as well as provide much-needed relief to animal protection agencies
February 25, 2016

WASHINGTON – The ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commends federal lawmakers for introducing legislation that will significantly improve the process of caring for animal victims connected to federal animal fighting cases. The Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, sponsored by Reps. John Katko (R-NY) and Judy Chu (D-CA), will permit judges to require defendants to cover the cost of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases. It will also speed up the rehoming and rehabilitation process for these animals.

Currently, when criminal cases slowly wind their way through the court system, animal welfare agencies house, feed, and provide critical veterinary and behavioral care for animals seized in those cases. Many of these animals linger in temporary shelters for several months while ownership issues are resolved, and some decline physically and psychologically from stress, even when high-quality care is provided.

The astronomical cost of sheltering seized animals for extended periods of time depletes the limited financial resources of animal protection agencies and local shelters, making the care of seized animals so prohibitively expensive that most agencies cannot afford to assist prosecutors and law enforcement. This can suppress law enforcement’s ability to crack down on animal fighting operations. This bill preserves due process rights of those claiming ownership of the animals while ensuring that they bear the financial responsibility for the care.

“Animal fighting victims have suffered enough at the hands of their abusers,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. “They shouldn’t suffer further while caught in the red tape of the federal forfeiture system. The ASPCA applauds Representatives Katko and Chu for their leadership in streamlining the process to get these victims of cruelty rehabilitated and into loving homes.”

“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve long-recognized that our system unfairly places the cost of care for abused animals on the American taxpayer, local municipal shelters, and nonprofit organizations,” said Rep. Katko. “I am greatly appreciative for the many animal advocates, like the ASPCA, who are committed to ending animal fighting and providing quality care and shelter for abused animals. With this legislation, we’ve streamlined the process so that our local shelters can more quickly provide rehabilitation services and find loving homes for victimized animals.”

“Animal cruelty such as dog fighting is a particularly heinous crime against a defenseless creature. Our government is rightfully vigilant and active in shutting down these rings, but when the animals are seized, the cost and care falls on local shelters,” said Rep. Chu. “Court proceedings can take over a year, which means the cost of doing the right thing can total millions of dollars. Additionally, shelters are unable to rehabilitate these animals until the proceedings have completed, which leaves animals stressed and hostile. It’s unjust that taxpayers and local shelters are picking up the tab for the care of these animals. This bill would help remedy that. I am so pleased to be able work bipartisanly with my colleague, Representative Katko, to help keep animals safe and place responsibility where it belongs.”

Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The ASPCA has worked with law enforcement on more than 100 dog fighting cases, including the two largest dog fighting raids in U.S. history in 2013 and 2009. The ASPCA recently launched a social media campaign and video to urge the U.S. Sentencing Commission to #GetTough on animal fighting by strengthening the federal sentencing guidelines to bring them in line with the maximum prison sentence of five years prescribed by Congress in 2008.

For more information on the ASPCA’s efforts to tackle dog fighting, please visit